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Friday 6 December 2019

Martin's massacred as Ballyhale run riot

AIB Leinster Club Senior Hurling Championship Semi-final: Ballyhale Shamrocks 5-19 St Martin's 1-16

Eoin Reid of Ballyhale Shamrocks making tracks away from St. Martin’s defender Eoin O’Leary
Eoin Reid of Ballyhale Shamrocks making tracks away from St. Martin’s defender Eoin O’Leary

Alan Aherne in UPMC Nowlan Park

The omens were dark from a very early stage in UPMC Nowlan Park on Saturday, just 16 seconds to be precise because that's all it took for a porous St. Martin's to be penetrated by the brilliant Ballyhale Shamrocks attack for the first time.

That opening goal for the All-Ireland title-holders, finished by Brian Cody after a driving run from wing-back Evan Shefflin, was a sign of what was to follow as the favourites romped to a runaway 15-point victory in a one-sided AIB Leinster Club Senior hurling championship semi-final.

In effect, the game was as good as over by the end of the first quarter when Ballyhale had built a lead of 1-8 to 0-2, and all of their scoring efforts were successful before the first of ten wides in all arrived in the 17th minute.

The outcome means that St. Martin's have just one win outside the county boundaries from four attempts, and that arrived on their first venture against lowly Kilmessan from Meath in 1999.

A semi-final defeat followed 20 years ago to Castletown from Laois, and they departed at the first hurdle to Birr (Offaly) and Cuala (Dublin) in 2008 and 2017 respectively.

The loss of Willie Devereux with a shoulder injury was a massive blow because, not alone was he the captain, he was also the team's most consistent player in the games that really mattered up to this point in my opinion.

Daithí Waters led the side out in his absence, with the poisoned chalice of trying to stop T.J. Reid on the '40 handed to Aaron Maddock, a truly thankless task on an afternoon when the Kilkenny great underlined his at times breathtaking quality with a personal haul of 2-14 - one point higher than the combined St. Martin's tally.

Joe O'Connor was tasked with marking Colin Fennelly, and Shamrocks may have thrown a curve ball into enemy territory by getting him to spend some time in the left corner before re-locating to his more natural berth on the edge of the square.

Having said that, Conor Firman has ample experience of playing at full-back rather than in the corner, but St. Martin's were fighting fires on so many fronts from the word go that a defence where Eoin O'Leary was preferred to Mark Maloney in the left corner was given a torrid time.

At the other end, it was 1-6 to 0-2 for Ballyhale before - by my recollection - Rory O'Connor got the ball in his hand for the first time as the game moved into the 13th minute.

He took off on a solo run, but was followed all the way by Shamrocks captain Michael Fennelly who timed the flick off his hurl to perfection.

That was just one small example of the total control exercised by the victors in an extremely dull game, the exact opposite to the thriller I travelled to Carlow to watch 24 hours later when St. Mullins pipped Rathdowney-Errill in a gripping second semi-final.

The Martin's defence parted way too easily for that goal after 16 seconds from Brian Cody, and Eoin Cody, T.J. Reid (free) and Richie Reid ramped up the pressure even further with points before Jake Firman - the latter's direct opponent - got the visitors off the mark in the sixth minute.

It was only a brief respite, though, with Richie Reid punishing a very poor clearance with his second score before T.J. exchanged pointed frees with Joe Coleman who was well contained in general play.

St. Martin's found it hard to string more than two passes together, and some of their attempts at playing a short game were doomed to disaster.

With a leaden touch and some strange options repeatedly taken, there was never even the slightest hint that they would be capable of recovering from that early Ballyhale onslaught.

T.J. split the posts from a sweetly-struck line ball on the left, and he then made it 1-8 to 0-2 from a free and from play before Jack O'Connor shot a long-range reply after good work by Aaron Maddock and Harry O'Connor.

Joe Coleman knocked over another free before Rory O'Connor shot wide from a short placed ball pass from Jack in the 19th minute.

Reid and Coleman swapped scores once more before the former made it 1-10 to 0-5, and the otherwise quiet Adrian Mullen then added his name to the list of marksmen.

Jack O'Connor picked off his second point from a pass by Rory, but it wasn't long before Ballyhale were crashing home a second goal, and going close to adding a third.

Eoin Reid controlled a Darren Mullen clearance in the 26th minute, and the ball was latched on to by Colin Fennelly who bore down on goal before Joe O'Connor brought him to the ground.

The yellow card was followed by a penalty that T.J. Reid dispatched with customary aplomb, and he had a chance to repeat the dose just two minutes later.

On that occasion, Patrick O'Connor was booked after Colin Fennelly caught a long ball by Reid close to the endline on the edge of the square, but this time the great one showed a human side by crashing the ball to the right and wide.

It was just as well for St. Martin's, as they found themselves trailing by 2-12 to 0-7 at the break after a late sharing of points between free-takers Coleman and Reid.

After beating Naomh Eanna by 6-21 to 4-11 last season, Ballyhale were only one point shy of that 16-point margin by game's end, largely because of a late consolation goal from Michael Codd.

The first four points on the re-start were shared, with Joe Coleman obliging twice from frees for St. Martin's, but they shipped two more goals in 50 seconds near the end of the third quarter.

T.J. Reid put a neat ball in front of Colin Fennelly who turned and beat Conor Firman before setting up Eoin Reid for their third of the afternoon.

And number four followed swiftly, with Fennelly batting home after a long delivery by his brother, Michael, was misread in the air by Daithí Waters (4-14 to 0-9).

Harry O'Connor had a point before another Michael Fennelly clearance was held up long enough on the ground by Colin for T.J. to dart on to the ball, round Luke White, and direct it into the far corner of the net.

Even the scoreboard operator started to lose interest at that stage, with Reid's next point from a free not recorded, and the Ballyhale tally given as 5-18 rather than 5-19 at the finish.

Rory O'Connor sought a consolation goal in the 51st minute, only to be denied by a timely Darragh Corcoran tackle, and he finally picked off a late point to make it 5-16 to 0-16, after earlier scores from play by his brother, Harry, and substitute Darren Codd.

The class act that is T.J. Reid brought his own haul to 2-14 on his 32nd birthday with Ballyhale's last three points, including two from frees, before that Martin's goal did arrive in the 69th minute.

Rory and Jack O'Connor tried to work an opening, and they succeeded as Michael Codd fired to the net, but the crowd had long since lost interest in proceedings by that stage.

St. Martin's: Luke White; Joe O'Connor, Conor Firman, Eoin O'Leary; Daithí Waters (capt.), Aaron Maddock, Patrick O'Connor; Michael Codd (1-0), Harry O'Connor (0-2); Jake Firman (0-1), Jack O'Connor (0-2), Joe Coleman (0-9, 8 frees, 1 '65); Ciarán Lyng, Rory O'Connor (0-1), Mikey Coleman. Subs. - Darren Codd (0-1) for M. Coleman (36), Mark Maloney for J. Firman (46), Jack Devereux for P. O'Connor (58).

Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Darragh Corcoran, Joey Holden, Darren Mullen; Evan Shefflin, Michael Fennelly (capt.), Richie Reid (0-2); Ronan Corcoran, Conor Phelan; Adrian Mullen (0-1), T.J. Reid (2-14, 0-11 frees, 1-0 pen., 0-1 line ball), Brian Cody (1-0); Eoin Reid (1-0), Eoin Cody (0-2), Colin Fennelly (1-0). Subs. - Joey Cuddihy for A. Mullen, inj. (36), Conor Walsh for R. Corcoran (46), Gavin Butler for R. Reid (50), Eoin Kenneally for E. Reid (51), Mark Aylward for E. Cody (53).

Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).

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